Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Bringing the learner to the forefront. Does FE differ from secondary education?

Tonight serves as a time for reflection on the year we have had within education. The introduction of the new GCSE's in English and Maths looms over us and everyone is apprehensive about the current structure of these new exams. While schools around the country are gearing up for students to sit these examinations, colleges have yet to adopt this change. Some colleges have opted to join the change and move to these new specifications early in order to gain an extra year of experience delivering these qualifications before the mainstream students who have attempted these exams come onto their further education journey.

Aside from the examination changes, changes to funding in FE have meant that students will be funded on their full time programme providing that colleges can evidence progression within English/Maths depending on the current grades of the students. We also have to consider that students have to stay in education until they are 18 years old, and if they choose to stay further, they have to complete Maths or English qualifications until they are 19 or achieve "C" grades in both (or 4/5 grades, but nobody is really sure which)

So where does this leave further education. Are we becoming more mainstream and compulsory?

As a lecturer at a college, we get a mixture of different student groups, the students all have one thing in common, they have attempted their GCSE at least once before and gained either D grade or lower. Rather than just throwing students into their GCSE again regardless of grading, we also have functional skills qualifications (which is an adult numeracy qualification in problem solving using contextual information to complete maths based problems). Does this make it easier for our students who achieve less than a D grade in GCSE Maths? I personally think if we can provide skills for maths exams and learning, then we are doing a service to our learners who otherwise will be leaving college without any formal maths qualification whatsoever.

One of the common questions I get from students is "why do I need to do Maths?", a lot of the time I work with students on comprehending their maths learning and considering how this could apply within their future life. Does this mean everything they learn they use in the future, well, it depends on their occupation choice but generally speaking students will not use as much as they will need to learn in their maths qualifications. Does this mean that we have lost them altogether in their maths learning, why learn it if there is no need?

Consider this problem, two candidates go for an apprenticeship in construction, both are equally competent within this field and are able to apply themselves within their construction skills, however one has a C grade in Maths and the other doesn't, one is judged as more competent than the other. In our teaching of maths to these learners, be sure to stress that you are helping them become more employable rather than being good at maths. The truth is, not many of your students are looking to become maths teachers, nor are they looking to complete further mathematics education, be sure to speak directly to the students motivation and interests in addressing the issues surrounding their compulsory English and Maths education.

It's funny when I speak to students about jobs, some are happy doing any job they want but ultimately they all want opportunity in the future. Some students will also work part-time, prioritise their driving lessons and have other personal problems to contend with outside of your maths lesson. Consider the individual motivations when trying to encourage your students to continue and complete their maths qualifications and bring attention to that. You do not need to be the best maths teacher in the world to teach FE students maths, you just have to be able to relate to the problems that students compete with in their day-to-day lives and show genuine admiration and interest in them. Some of the students I talk to about their English and Maths sessions say they enjoy their lessons in these subjects because they feel valued in the classroom not because they want to necessarily study your subject (one student made me a "best maths teacher" sticker which was very sweet) .

Take away the professionalism, and be yourself in front of your students. I encourage you to think about how you can relate to your students more, not because you want them to think about how they can relate your subject to what they do day-to-day but because you are considering the holistic wellbeing of the students in front of you. They don't need to be maths geniuses to get the maths exams, or a classic poet to understand the meaning gained from a text of information, however they need to consider what they want to do with their lives and make independent, adult decisions regarding their own futures. Does a student who gets frustrated feel frustrated with you personally? Rarely, so let's not make it a personal attack either. Remember, there is more to someone than meets the eye, just dig a little deeper and put the learner at the forefront of everything you do within your further education lessons, does this approach really differ much from school? Not at all.